A Belleville man charged with seven counts of child porn possession posted an ad on Craigslist looking to buy used children's underwear, police say.
The ad, posted in January, was what started the investigation into 23-year-old Michael Roussel, according to an affidavit filed by Belleville police.
"I want to buy your little ones undies. Boys or girls. Prefer freshly used. Shoot me an email or Kik message me," the post read.
Belleville police Detective Patrick Koebbe created an account with Kik — an instant-messaging app for smartphones — and sent a message to Roussel, pretending to have a 4-year-old boy's underwear available to trade, according to the affidavit.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"Perfect. What condition are they in? More used the better," Roussel replied, according to the affidavit. "And what are you wanting to trade for?"
Koebbe said he wanted photos, and a few messages later, Roussel sent him a photo of a young boy masturbating, saying it was a "sample" of what he had, according to the affidavit. Roussel asked Koebbe if he had any photos of the boy or his underwear, then they discussed dropping off the underwear at Bicentennial Park in Belleville, according to the affidavit.
Belleville police Detective David Ray wrote in the affidavit that Koebbe discovered that the Kik account and IP address were Roussel's. Officers received search warrants and arrested Roussel on Feb. 20, and searched his home. Police seized 12 phones, three laptops, eight external storage devices, an iPod and an Apple Watch from Roussel's house.
Roussel worked with children at the O'Fallon YMCA, Goddard School preschool and day care in Shiloh, and S.I.M.S. Martial Arts and Fitness Academy in O'Fallon.
Most Goddard School parents felt like the school handled things exactly how they should have, parent Lindsay Wilson said.
"This could happen anywhere," Wilson said. "I feel like they took the appropriate action ... I don't know how day cares would actually ensure it's not going to happen."
Wilson has had two daughters go to Goddard, and she said she didn't think the school would ever risk the safety of the children they're in charge of. Her oldest daughter was taught by "Mr. Mike," as they called him, and Wilson said she had no concerns whatsoever about him.
But Levi Weinhaus, whose 2-year-old daughter went to Goddard, immediately pulled her out of school when he heard the news about Roussel's arrest. Roussel was a teacher's assistant for children ages 3-6 and taught a karate class.
"It's one, disheartening, and I feel betrayed," Weinhaus said. "I pray that nothing happened to (my daughter)... My worry is taking my kid to the bathroom and trying to help her go. We're trying to potty train her, and teachers are expected to go in and help her potty."
The school recommended parents speak to their children about Roussel, to ensure they were not victimized, but Weinhaus said he didn't plan to do that himself. His daughter's mother has a friend who works with victimized children, and he planned to have her sit down and speak to her.
Weinhaus said he had to send photos of Lilah in a bathing suit to police to help with their investigation. Belleville police did not respond to requests for comment about that.
Roussel was charged Feb. 21 with seven counts of child porn possession and one count of child porn dissemination. Shortly after charges were filed, St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said officials have reason to believe the case was still developing.
"We cannot reiterate enough that we strongly encourage anyone who has children who have had contact with this defendant to bring forward any concerns or observations to investigators as soon as possible," Kelly said.
The O'Fallon YMCA and Goddard School said they received no complaints about Roussel prior to his arrest. S.I.M.S. did not respond for comment but posted a statement on Facebook to say Roussel will no longer be an instructor, nor will he be allowed on the premises.
It's not known if Roussel produced any images himself or if he had any inappropriate contact with children, Belleville police said in a news release.
Belleville police said shortly after Roussel's arrest that they were not aware of additional victims, but encouraged parents to speak to their children if they were potentially around Roussel. Parents can report any concerns to their local police department.
Roussel posted $75,000 cash for bond and was released from custody at the St. Clair County Jail.